They are common in the wide plains of Serengeti and form an important part of the National Park’s Geology.
These rock outcrops protruding from the otherwise flat grassy landscape are known as ‘Kopjes’, this is believed to be an Afrikaans word meaning ‘little heads,’ and they often do resemble heads or fantastic sculptures.
Kopjes are small usually rocky hill especially on the African veld, formed when softer volcanic rock and ash that comprise the soils of the Serengeti region erode to expose the underlying layer of ancient granite that forced its way upwards from below the earth’s crust.
Geologists believe that this occurred during the Precambrian Era, which is at least 540 million years ago.
However the granite rocks from which the Kopjes originated date back to around 3 billion years, resulting from erosion and weathering actions.
Such granite rocks have been broken up into a jumbled pile of rocks.
What are the Kopjes of Serengeti?
Kopjes are a distinctive feature of the Serengeti landscape and are often referred to as ‘islands in a sea of grass!.
They provide protection from bushfires, hold more water in the direct vicinity, offer a hiding place for animals, and a vantage point for predators.
Serengeti is a vast plain of grassland, woods and swamps, measuring nearly 30,000 square kilometers that stretches from north-western Tanzania into south-western Kenya.
The plains are home to approximately 70 species of large mammals and some 500 avifauna species.
The plains feature the largest Terrestrial Mammal Migration in the world
Dotting this vast savannah are outcrops of granite rocks that stick out like rocky islands in a sea of grass.
These now happen to be the legendary Kopjes. Without them the Serengeti won’t be the Serengeti.
Standing majestically around the plains of savannah with vegetation dominated by bushes and grass, these beautiful metamorphic rocks consist of very hard granite capable of resisting erosion from rain and harsh tropical winds.
Aside from providing a scenic contrast to the surrounding grassland, kopjes provide habitat for many creatures because of the presence of a variety of plants, caves for dwelling, water, and a vantage point for Serengeti’s many predators, but especially lions.
Kopjes are essentially piles of ancient rocks that poke through the more recent soils and surface rocks. These rocks were laid down more than 500 million years ago all over Africa.
Once upon a Million years time, when the former giant mountain of Ngorongoro exploded and collapsed to form the current Crater, the volcanic activity from the highlands deposited a layer of rocks and ash to create a rich and fertile soil that produces short, sweet grass when it rains.
As the surface rock and soil wore away, it exposed the uneven top of the granite layer forming kopjes.
Kopjes are also the refuges for life in the Serengeti
On top of these natural structures some special plants grow by sticking roots into the cracks in the rocks that trap soil and nutrients.
There are many animal species that only live on Kopjes because of these plants, the rocky habitats and hiding places they offer.
Where the plains of Serengeti are too flat to hold water, the hollows in the rock surfaces provide catchments for rainwater.
The weathered, cracked and rounded surface harbour insects, birds, lizards, and snakes, to mammals such as shrews and mice.
The elevated rocks are perfect places to warm up in the morning or evening sun, and provide an ideal viewpoint for animals to survey the plains for food.
An interesting mammal exclusive to the kopjes is the Rock Hyrax.
Hyraxes, which are about the size and shape of a rugby or football, and eat grass and herbs around the Kopjes.
Another animals that have made home on kopjes are the small size antelope called klipspringer